BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT //
This past semester, I got a B- in my Introduction to Psychology course. Even if I’m not too pleased with the grade, I think many of you could easily list some reasons why I should be okay with the effort.
For example: “Well, it’s a difficult class;” or “It was during your spring semester;” or perhaps the classic line, “You worked really hard at it.”
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But what’s interesting is that I may not be persuaded, no matter how true your statements. I very well may continue on with the frustrating feeling that I could have done better.
The truth is that personal victories are often the most difficult to celebrate. We can easily congratulate friends and family for even the smallest of successes, yet we tend to believe that the same rules simply don’t apply to our own lives. We’re often left reminding ourselves, “I could have done better.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, G-d outlines the borders of the Promised Land. He begins with the southern extremities, explaining:
“Your southernmost corner shall be from the desert of Zin along Edom, and the southern border shall be from the edge of the Sea of Salt to the east (Numbers 34:3).”
G-d continues in this way for roughly 10 verses, thoroughly proclaiming the exact amount of land that would be given to the Israelites. Obviously, the details of the Promised Land are something to celebrate; but, going back to my personal anecdote above, I believe the pronouncement could have been a moment of disappointment for the Children of Israel.
After all, the outlining of the land bans them from bordering areas. For example, with regards to the southern border, surely it’s exciting that the Israelites would receive land north from the edge of the Sea of Salt to the east – but it’s also sad that they would not be given land south of that line.
In the same way that we tend to tell ourselves, “I could have done better,” it’s very likely that the Israelites were thinking, “Well, it could have been more.”
In fact, I think that G-d anticipated this sort of behavior, as the Torah takes a sort of “pre-emptive strike” against such a negative way of thinking. In the chapter that precedes the allotting of the land, the journey of the Israelites is outlined step-by-step. It begins by recalling:
“They journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day following the Passover sacrifice, the children of Israel left triumphantly before the eyes of all the Egyptians (Numbers 33:3).”
It continues, then, to list all 42 journeys of the Israelites, finally concluding with:
“They journeyed from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho (Numbers 33:48).”
Why, we might ask, did G-d spend the time detailing what the Israelites had already done?
Because, I presume, He wanted them to recognize their smaller victories. See, each of our own successes and accomplishments are actually made up of several smaller ones.
I received a B- in Introduction to Psychology. Whether or not I consider that end-product a success or a failure is irrelevant – I have hundreds of smaller victories to celebrate.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when I got my tired self out of bed to walk to class, I accomplished something; and every time I chose to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night to study, I accomplished something. And my decisions that led me to make more than 300 notecards and 40 pages of outlined notes, those were all accomplishments.
G-d wants us all to recognize the smaller pieces of our lives. He wanted the Israelites to remember each of their journeys, no matter how trivial and insignificant. I know that, even after reading bits of the Torah, I personally don’t remember each of these points, each a triumph:
“They journeyed from Mount Shepher and camped in Haradah. They journeyed from Haradah and camped in Makheloth. They journeyed from Makheloth and camped in Tahath (Numbers 33:24-26).”
The chapter goes on an on like this, listing the Israelites’ journeys in a matter-of-fact way, as a reminder of each step it took for the Israelites to make it to the promised land. And it is only after the 42 journeys and the explanation of the allotment of land per family, that G-d says to Moses:
“Command the children of Israel and say to them, When you arrive in the land of Canaan, this is the land which shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders (Numbers 34:2).”
It’s in this way that G-d prepares the Israelites for their somewhat confined gift: by honoring each decision and each step the Israelites took to reach their goal so that they may be proud of what they’ve done and, therefore, unconditionally proud of the land they are about to receive.
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University in St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.